Amateur: Hal Hartley’s Comedy of Manners, Starring Isabelle Huppert as Pornographic Nun and Martin Donovan

In Amateur, Hal Hartley’s hip but shallow comedy of manner, established indie talent, such as Martin Donovan, and French Isabelle Huppert, a bona fide star, are mingled to some dubious results.

Grade: C+ (**1/2* out of *****)

Amateur ver1.jpg

poster for the film

Huppert plays a former nun named Isabelle, who checks out of a convent to write erotic stories, a subject she knows nothing about. Still a virgin, she researches her subject matter by buying magazines and watching videos.

Under the most bizarre circumstances, she meets in a cafe Thomas (Martin Donovan), an amnesiac with a criminal past who’s been pushed out of a window (and is presumed dead) by his wife, Sofia (Elina Lowenstein).

In another café, accountant Edward is befriended by Sofia, who got violent with her husband because he introduced her to drugs at the age of 12 and made her a porn actress.

She is described as “the most notorious porno actress in the world,” whose desperate finances force her into cahoots with a powerful arms dealer, Jacques. She now wants revenge on the crooked businessman for whom both Thomas and Edward worked.

Learning from Edward that Thomas has data on disk that could destroy Jacques, she steals his phone number from Edward’s address book. For his part, Edward gives her the address of a house upstate where she can hide.

After contacting Jacques to blackmail him, she meets Edward at Grand Central Terminal, who warns her that Jacques kills anyone who knows about technology.

Driven by preposterous happenstance, a trademark of Hartley’s strategy, Sofia urges Edward to come with her to the house upstate, afraid both she and Edward will end up dead. She then leaves the station only to see Jacques’ hit men shoving Edward into a car. They take him to an abandoned building to torture him and leave him for dead.

With digressions that involve Thomas’ accountant and two goons who are on Sofia’s trails, all the characters end up in Upstate New York in a climax that strains too much to be cool and piquant, but is ultimately arbitrary, brittle, and tedious.

Less quirky than Hartley’s earlier efforts, Amateur tries to push humor to the forefront as the laborious tale unfolds. And he again relies on coolly arch dialogue and hip detachment.

But the film’s absurd conceit of amnesia and other comic elements are too forced. Amnesia is such a prevalent theme in American movies, both mainstream and indies, that the text becomes painfully banal; the elegant imagery brings some visual pleasure.

Occasionally, though, fresh observations surface about the contrasts between purity and experience and ignorance and knowledge, two of Hartley’s perennial themes.

Isabelle Huppert – Isabelle
Martin Donovan – Thomas
Elina Löwensohn – Sofia
Damian Young – Edward
Chuck Montgomery – Jan, first goon
Dave Simonds – Kurt, second goon